Pan de leche literally means milk bread however it is more like a sweet pastry and not just a sweet bread! These are very popular in argentine bakeries and can be found baked with crema pastelera (crème patisserie) on top like on this recipe, plain with no topping or slashed on the side and filled with fresh crema pastelera or dulce de leche!
I always loved all the pastries with crema pastelera on top whether fresh or baked and so these were a childhood favourite! Although crema pastelera is famed for being ‘difficult to make’ due to the fact it can split or form lumps if not done well, I really want to encourage you to have a go at making it and if you follow the simple instructions, you WILL have PERFECT crema pastelera!
What will I need to make pan de leche?
- Plain flour: Good old all plain flour is perfect for this recipe. You cannot use self raising flour as we are using yeast in this recipe. You may need extra flour depending on the size of the eggs used.
- Milk: These pastries are called milk bread so milk is kind of a given ingredient! I used semi-skimmed milk but if you do have full fat milk, it would be even better. The milk should be lukewarm!
- Yeast: I use Allison’s dried active yeast because I like that it needs to be dissolved in a liquid and therefore you are always sure the yeast is alive before adding it to the rest of ingredients. You can obviously use fast acting yeast, which is easier, as you add the yeast straight to the solid ingredients and all liquid is added at once. If you can find fresh yeast easily, then you can also use it!
- Sugar: Caster sugar is best as it is smaller granules than granulated sugar. You will add a bit of the sugar to the yeast sponge, to the dough and also you will use sugar for the crema pastelera
- Eggs: I used large eggs which in hindsight may have been too large ha! If your dough is too wet, you can add more flour. You will also need egg yolks for the crema pastelera. Make sure your eggs are always at room temperature before you begin baking
- Unsalted butter: The butter should be at room temperature before adding so make sure you take it out of the fridge for at least 15-20 minutes before you begin baking!
- Salt: Only 5g of salt used. Add it to the flour and mix before adding the yeast or sponge so that it is not in direct contact as otherwise the yeast would die.
- Zest of lemon: This gives the dough a lovely delicate flavour so definitely worth adding.
- Vanilla extract: This will be added both to the dough and to the crema pastelera
- Cornflour: Crema pastelera is essentially set custard and the way it thickens and sets is because of the added cornflour. Cornflour, although amazing, tends to form lumps easily if not dissolved in liquid first so make sure you completely dissolve the cornflour in a bit of milk before adding to rest of ingredients.
This recipe makes 25 pan de leche so it is definitely very generous!
For the yeast sponge:
- 100g plain flour
- 15g dried active yeast (30g fresh yeast or 7g fast acting yeast)
- 100ml lukewarm milk
- 10g caster sugar (1 tbsp)
For the dough:
- 400g plain flour
- 5g salt
- 90g caster sugar
- 5g dried active yeast (10g fresh or 2g fast acting yeast)
- yeast sponge (made in previous step)
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- 100g soft butter
- 100ml lukewarm milk
- zest of a lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the crema pastelera (crème patisserie) :
- 500ml milk
- 50g cornflour
- 100g caster sugar
- 5 egg yolks
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
To make the yeast sponge:
- Add the plain flour, dried active yeast, lukewarm milk and sugar.
- Stir gently and thoroughly, cover with cling film and let it rest in a warm place until the yeast blooms and forms a lovely sponge.
To make the dough:
- Sift the flour and salt together into a clean container and make a well in the middle.
- If you are using dried active yeast, dissolve the extra yeast in the lukewarm milk (you do not need to wait for it to bloom). If you are using fast acting or fresh yeast, move on to next step.
- Add caster sugar, eggs, soft butter, vanilla extract and milk with dissolved yeast.
- Mix thoroughly with a spatula, add yeast sponge and continue to mix.
- If the dough is too wet and can’t be kneaded, add a couple extra spoons of plain flour until dough is formed.
- Tip the dough onto the surface and knead for a couple of minutes.
- Add the zest of a lemon (or two!) and continue to knead the dough for a few more minutes.
- Put the dough in a clean container, cover with cling film or shower cap and let it rest in a warm place until it doubles in size.
- Once it has doubled in size, deflate slightly by pressing lightly on the dough. Divide the dough into sections of 40g balls. Put all the balls into a tray covered with parchment paper.
- Cover the tray with cling film or a clean tea towel and let it rest in a warm place until it doubles in size again.
- Once the second proving is taking place, make the crema pastelera.
To make the crema pastelera:
- Heat most of the milk gently until it comes to a boil (leave 50ml of cold milk or so aside to dissolve the corn flour). Ensure you are always stirring so it does not stick or burn. When it starts to boil, remove from fire, cover and set aside.
- Add the cornflour in the remaining cold milk and stir thoroughly to ensure all the cornflour is dissolved.
- Add the 5 egg yolks to a clean container and the caster sugar. Whisk either by hand or with an electric whisk until the mixture is lighter yellow and fluffy.
- Add the dissolved cornflour and milk into the egg/sugar mixture and continue to stir for a few more minutes, ensuring the corn flour has dissolved completely.
- Start adding small amounts of the warm milk to the egg/sugar mixture and continue to stir constantly so that it does not split.
- Once all the milk has been added, put the mixture in a clean pan and start to heat gently whilst continuing to stir/whisk.
- After 10-15 of gently heating, the crema pastelera will start to set. If at any point you see clumps forming, remove from the fire, whisk vigorously until clumps are broken up and then continue to heat gently.
- Once the crema pastelera has thicken, remove from the fire and transfer to a clean bowl. Cover with cling film, ensuring the cling film touches the surface of the crema pastelera. This ensures that no crust is formed on the top whilst cooling.
- Let it cool at room temperature and then refrigerate until completely set.
To decorate and bake the pan de leche:
- Once your pan de leche have doubled in size at least, start preheating your oven to 200 degree Celsius.
- Whisk an egg in a container and using a brush, egg wash each pan de leche ensuring you do not remove any of the gas.
- Add the set crema pastelera into a piping bag and pipe swirls of crema pastelera on the top of each pan de leche.
- Bake the pan de leche for 12-15 minutes at 200 degree Celsius until golden!
I hope you enjoy this recipe on a rainy day with a good cup of tea or coffee!
Buen provecho 🙂